Worst Best Picture: Is Going My Way Better or Worse Than Crash?

Barry Fitzgerald and Bing Crosby in Going My Way

Alex Russell

In “Worst Best Picture” we search every single Best Picture Oscar winner of all time from 1927 to present to uncover the worst of them all. Conventional wisdom says that 2005’s winner Crash is the worst winner in history. We won’t stop until we’ve tested every last one. Read the the first, our review of Crash, here. Posts will be relatively spoiler free, but there may be some details revealed. Today’s installment is the 1944 winner Going My Way. Is it better than Crash?

The 1940s is the last decade where a majority of the films that won Best Picture feel significantly dated. Mrs. MiniverHow Green Was My Valley, and The Lost Weekend all have their charms, but they require significant suspension of modern film opinion to enjoy. Going My Way is dated, but in a different way. Let me be frank: the chief conflict in Going My Way is about if Bing Crosby can love both golf and God or if that’s a bridge too far.

Conflict drives all story, and Going My Way is the clash of Bing Crosby’s young, hip priest and Barry Fitzgerald’s old, stuffy priest. Bing Crosby shows up with a song in his heart and a desire to make the church a place the kids want to hang out and stay out of trouble. Fitzgerald wants Bing Crosby to shut the hell up about golf and baseball and all his  other worldly nonsense.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it really hinges on how believable you find their disagreements and how much you like the two leads. Barry Fitzgerald’s character is supposed to be elderly, but he’s established as somewhere around 700 years old based on his personality. Bing Crosby is eternal to a certain generation, to be sure, but I was born too late to have the automatic reverence. I’m not going to sit here and say that he has a bad performance here, but the scenes that require the viewer to be shocked and aghast that he has a shirt with a baseball team’s name on it — such behaviors do not befit a man of the cloth! — don’t resonate anymore. Some of it is that Bing Crosby as the “young upstart” seems silly, some of it is that it isn’t 1944. All of it is that this movie is like looking into a dead civilization, lost to time.

Going My Way is mostly fun, though, so it has that going for it. The third act focuses on Bing Crosby’s character’s singing career, because of course it does. It would be a waste to put one of the great singers of the day in a movie and not have him sing, but within the narrative it feels badly shoehorned. It turns out the priest always wanted to write songs and his beautiful ex-girlfriend always wanted to sing songs and let’s get this show on the road!

The whole movie’s plot is fairly slight, though the ideas behind it aren’t. The ideas of a religion wanting to appeal to a new generation and the old generation being afraid to try new tactics still resonates all these decades later. The theme of giving way to your future is still universal, but the way it happens in Going My Way feels a little dumb towards the end.

The Best Part: While Going My Way isn’t a “musical” in the way we’d think of one now, there are a helluva lot of songs in it. Some of these are fun. There are other redemptive qualities, but I will say that the obvious “Bing Crosby sings some songs” vehicle has some good Bing Crosby songs, so that’s for the best.

The Worst Part: The setup to establish Bing Crosby as “cool” is pretty silly in the light of 2014. It’s not really fair to judge Going My Way for how cool 1944 Bing Crosby isn’t these days, but man, I really couldn’t stop myself from enjoying how out-of-date it feels now. “C’mon, kids, let’s go watch some baseball!” What teenager wouldn’t want to go to a baseball game with his priest?

Is It Better or Worse than Crash? I can’t honestly decide if I would recommend Going My Way to someone. It’s a middle-of-the-pack Oscar winner in that it’s fine, I guess, but it has a ton of problems that keep it from being a “classic” in my eyes. It’s better than most of the things you could watch, and Bing Crosby had the kind of career where you should watch his Best Actor-winning performance. It’s dated significantly these days, but so is Crash and that came out less than a decade ago. No discussion of race at all in Going My Way, so all we can compare them on is that this movie from 1944 is set in a world that you will recognize a little more than the one in Crash.

Worst Best Picture Archives: Crash | Terms of Endearment | Forrest Gump | All About Eve | The Apartment | No Country for Old Men | Gentleman’s Agreement | 12 Years a SlaveThe Last Emperor | The Silence of the Lambs | The Artist | A Man for All Seasons | Platoon | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King | The King’s Speech | Rain Man | The Departed | The Bridge on the River Kwai | Marty | Gigi | It Happened One Night | Driving Miss Daisy | Shakespeare in Love | Wings | Midnight Cowboy | Rocky | Gone with the Wind| Chicago | Gladiator | Cavalcade | The Greatest Show on Earth | You Can’t Take It With You | The Best Years of Our Lives | The GodfatherCasablancaGrand Hotel | Kramer vs. Kramer | The French Connection | In the Heat of the Night | An American in Paris | Patton | Mrs. Miniver | Amadeus | Crash, Revisited | How Green Was My Valley | American Beauty | West Side Story | The Sting | Tom Jones | Dances with Wolves | Going My Way

Alex Russell lives in Chicago and is set in his ways. Disagree with him about anything at readingatrecess@gmail.com or on Twitter at @alexbad.

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